National Rifle Association officials were secretly recorded advising a far-right Australian party on how to exploit mass shootings to push their pro-gun agenda during a three-year undercover sting by Al Jazeera investigative reporter Rodger Muller.
Muller, who spent three years posing as a member of an Australian pro-gun lobby, recorded NRA executives advising politicians to “shame” gun critics after mass shootings and amplify racial fears to push their pro-gun agenda.
During Muller’s investigation, he introduced James Ashby and Steve Dickson, two members of the the far-right nationalist pro-gun One Nation party, to the NRA. The party has long sought to weaken Australia’s gun laws after the country banned nearly all rifles and shotguns after a 1996 mass shooting that killed 35 people in the town of Port Arthur.
Muller traveled to the NRA’s Virginia headquarters last September with Ashby and Dickson, who sought up to $20 million in donations from the group to push the NRA’s pro-gun message in Australia, according to the report. Muller secretly filmed NRA officials advising the leaders on how to exploit mass shootings to push a pro-gun agenda.
NRA media liaison officer Catherine Mortensen advised the officials to “say nothing” at first but go on the offensive if inquiries persist.
Lars Dalseide, a member of the NRA’s public relations team, urged Ashby and Dickson to “just shame” gun critics.
"If your policy isn't good enough to stand on itself, how dare you use their deaths to push that forward?” he urged them to say. “How dare you stand on the graves of those children to put forward your political agenda?"
Delseide encouraged One Nation to use sympathetic reporters to push their message.
"You have somebody who leans to your side that worked at a newspaper, maybe he was covering city hall or was a crime reporter," he says in the video. "We want to print up stories about people who were robbed, had their home invaded, were beaten or whatever it might be and that could have been helped had they had a gun. And that's going to be the angle on your stories. That's what he's got to write. He's got to put out two to five of those a week."
Mortensen said the NRA also uses columns purportedly written by law enforcement officials that were actually ghostwritten by gun lobbyists.
"We pitch guest columns in the local papers," she said. "A lot of the times, we'll write them for like a local sheriff in Wisconsin or whatever. And he'll draft it or she will help us draft it. We'll do a lot of the legwork because these people are busy. And this is our job. So, we'll help them and they'll submit it with their name on it so that it looks organic. You know, that it's coming from that community. But we will have a role behind the scenes."
Mortensen and Delseide also encouraged the party to use their social media channels to stir up “outrage.”
Dickson told the NRA officials that he was worried about “African gangs imported to Australia” who he said were responsible for rape and burglary and "coming into the house with baseball bats to steal your car."
The NRA officials advised him to use those stories to amplify racial fears.
"Every time there's a story there about the African gangs coming in with baseball bats,” he said, “a little thing you can put out there, maybe at the top of a tweet or Facebook post or whatever, like with 'not allowed to defend their home,' 'not allowed to defend their home.' Boom."
Another recording shows Ashby and Dickson meeting with representatives of Koch Industries, in which they appear to suggest that they want to loosen Australia’s gun laws by somehow changing the country’s voting system.
The NRA denied that it contributed any funding to any Australian political party or the gun lobby Muller claimed to work for in a statement to the Washington Post. Dickson responded to the report by alleging that Muller was an “Australian spy” who was “employed by a Middle Eastern country.” Al Jazeera is funded by the Qatari government.
“This was not about sourcing money from the NRA. This was about sourcing technology, sourcing an understanding of how they operate, but never was it about seeking $20 million from the NRA,” Dickson told reporters.
But Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison blasted the party, accusing them of trying to “sell Australia’s gun laws to the highest bidders, to a foreign buyer, and I find that abhorrent.”